Imagine this: You’re sat there minding your own business and going about your daily routine – when the worst happens … Extreme chest pain the likes of which you’ve never felt before.
Where do you turn? …
If someone happens to be nearby you could of course try to alert them to your worsening situation. But what if you happen to be alone. Sure, you could attempt to call 911 yourself, providing you are still physically capable of doing so – but what if you can’t?
That is the kind of situation that Apple’s latest patent, entitled CARE EVENT DETECTION AND ALERTS, unveiled at the U.S Patent and Trademark Office – this week, could some day prevent.
Specifically, the patent describes using the iPhone in tandem with an Apple Watch to detect medical emergencies, like that of a heart attack.
An occurrence of one or more “care events” is detected by an electronic device monitoring environmental data and/or user data from one or more sensors. The electronic device transmits one or more alerts regarding the detected occurrence to at least one other electronic device. In some cases, the electronic device may cooperate with at least one other electronic device in monitoring, detecting, and/or transmitting.
For example, the electronic device may detect the occurrence based on sensor data received from a cooperative electronic device or such data in combination with the electronic device’s sensor data. By way of another example, the electronic device may detect the occurrence and signal a cooperative electronic device to transmit one or more alerts.
The patent goes just some way to showing what the Apple Watch, in unison with Apple’s iPhone, might one day be capable of – and no doubt also signals the direction that Apple’s own “Health” app will take going forward.
As for how the system will be able to detect that you’re having a heart episode? Apple describes in the patent that the “combination of a sudden movement detected by an accelerometer coupled [with] loss of a heartbeat reading” is more than likely going to indicate that something is wrong.
The Apple Watch (and iPhone) could then theoretically use this data to automatically alert the emergency services on your behalf. Especially handy if you find yourself in the situation of being unable to contact someone in a time of extreme distress.
While watchOS – the OS that powers the Apple Watch – does not yet feature a dedicated Health app itself, the device is capable of receiving data from the iPhone’s Health app, which in turn also receives health data from the wearable’s many health-related sensors.
This type of system does pose a few questions, though. The most prominent of those perhaps being that if such a system existed, providing the perceived ‘trustworthiness’ of the technology in the eyes of the medical profession, there would almost certainly also be in the need for filter system.
Just like today when you call 911 – and the operator determines based on their training whether to dispatch an ambulance for your specific health situation at the time, wouldn’t automatically alerting the 911 system to a possible emergency also require this filter?
And if it is decided that alerts need to go through a filtering process such as the one described above, before medical assistance is dispatched, who gets to decide which patients get that help?
Even Apple itself does not yet consider the Apple Watch a health device.
So it’s clear that this patent may relate to a future version of the device, rather than the current incarnation.
But the debate stands, when you become responsible for caretaking the health and wellbeing of your customers – based on what is essentially an algorithm that determines if you are seriously unwell, or not – surely there has to be some rock-solid precautions taken on both the software and hardware side of things, in order to ensure that alerted emergency response is only called out when absolutely needed.
Still – it’s comforting to think that in the event one of us reading this ever does find ourselves in the above described situation, that one day soon the seemingly innocent fitness tracker that lives on our wrist may just save a life.